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City View: The Alexander Garden

After agreeing to place statues in the garden, the City Duma then had to determine who deserved one.

Published: September 3, 2014 (Issue # 1827)



  • The statue of Nikolai Przhevalsky, a naturalist and explorer who traveled through the vast steppes of Central and East Asia cataloguing plants and animals.
    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A defining feature of St. Petersburg is the various parks and gardens that dot the map from north to south and east to west, providing places of tranquility and quiet in the urban sprawl of Russias second-largest city.

Theres Park Pobedy in the south, which was once home to a brick factory and, more morbidly, a crematorium for the dead during the Leningrad blockade. Theres the Summer Garden along the banks of the Neva, whose fence is so beautiful that, legend has it, a man who sailed all the way from Britain to see the city turned back at the sight of it, as he believed nothing else could match its beauty. North of the center are Krestovsky and Yelagin islands, providing local families an ideal spot to picnic.

One urban oasis that stands out is the Alexander Garden, which abuts the Admiralty building and stretches from Palace Square to Senate Square. Before its reincarnation as one of the citys most popular parks, the area was covered by the fortifications of the Admiralty. A wide avenue was built in front of the building and it became a popular place for the citys aristocracy and nobility to meet and be seen, its fame immortalized in verse in Pushkins Eugene Onegin. It wasnt until 1872 that a decision was made to transform the layout from a pedestrian thoroughfare to a more scenic, natural setting.

Responsibility for the garden fell upon the shoulders of Eduard Regel, a German horticulturalist and botanist who had been in charge of St. Petersburgs botanical garden since 1855. Born in 1812, he graduated from the University of Bonn and was the head of Zurichs botanical garden after completing his studies in Gottingen, Germany. It was thanks to his efforts that St. Petersburgs botanical garden became one of Europes most beautiful.

The Alexander Garden first opened in 1874, named after the then emperor Alexander II, and the park was an immediate hit with locals. In 1880, the St. Petersburg City Duma decided to commemorate the countrys greatest cultural figures with statues of them placed throughout the garden.

While the city government was well in favor of the proposal, deciding who was important enough to earn a statue in the Alexander Garden was another story. Rejected candidates included Saints Cyril and Methodius, who created the Cyrillic alphabet, the poets Gavrila Derzhavin and Nikolai Karamzin, and famed scholar Mikhail Lomonosov.

Of those deemed worthy of being represented in the Alexander Garden was Nikolai Przhevalsky, a naturalist and explorer who traveled through the vast steppes of Central and East Asia cataloguing plants and animals. Unfortunately, his statue is best known today in the park not only because of the stone camel resting at its base but because of Przhevalskys startling resemblance to Iosef Stalin.

The honored (and less Stalin-resembling) artists whose statues can still be seen to this day include Nikolay Gogol, the composer Mikhail Glinka and the poets Mikhail Lermontov and Vasily Zhukovsky.

After the Bolsheviks seized power, the garden was renamed to the Maxim Gorky Workers Garden, a name it would keep until 1989.

During World War II, as the city savagely struggled for survival, none of the trees in the garden were cut down despite the terrible need for firewood in a city dying from cold, hunger and disease by the thousands. However, German shelling and air raids heavily damaged the park, and when the siege was finally lifted at the beginning of 1944, the garden was restored to its former glory.





 


ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Oct. 22


English teachers can expect to receive a few useful pointers today from Evgeny Kalashnikov, the British Council regional teacher, during the EFL Seminar this afternoon hosted by the British Book Center. The topic of todays seminar is Grammar Practice.


Young Petersburgers will get the chance to jumpstart their careers at Professional Growth, a job fair and forum featuring more than 40 major Russian and international companies vying for potential candidates for future positions. The forum not only is a chance to network but also to learn more about the modern business world and to understand what it takes to get the job you want.



Thursday, Oct. 23


AmChams Public Relations Committee meeting is scheduled to meet this morning at 9 a.m. in their office in the New St. Isaac Office Center.


Sportsmen get their chance to stock up on all kinds of gear at the Hunting and Fishing 2014 exhibition starting today at Lenexpo. Everything from rods and reels to boats, motorcycles and equipment for underwater hunting will be on sale so that any avid outdoorsman can always be prepared.



Friday, Oct. 24


SPIBAs ongoing Breakfast with the Director series continues today, featuring Tomas Hajek, Managing Director of the Northwest Division at Danone Russia. Hajek will be discussing collaborations between businesses from different cultures. The meeting is at 9 a.m. at the Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel and all who wish to attend must confirm their participation by Oct. 23.


Get your gong on at Sounds of the Universe, a concert at the city planetarium this evening incorporating six different gongs to create relaxing songs that will transport you upwards into the stratosphere. Tickets are 700 rubles ($17).



Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop culture, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the clubs website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit Neophobia at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBAs Marketing and Communications Committees round table discussion on Government Relations Practices in Russia this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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